Athapaskan, Algonquian language, Iroquoian, Tsimshian, Salishan
Canada is officially bilingual, and all services provided by the federal government are available in English and French. The selection of Ottawa as the national capital, located on the Ontario-Quebec border, reflects the long-standing political and cultural importance of the two founding nations. The 1996 census reported that only 1.7 percent of Canadians don’t have at least some ability to speak one of the official languages; 17 percent of Canadians are fluently bilingual. The majority speak English: 59 percent reported English as their mother tongue in 1996, while 23 percent reported French and 16 percent a nonofficial language. The most prevalent nonofficial languages in Canada are, in order of prominence, Chinese, Italian, Punjabi, Spanish, Portuguese, and Polish.
The indigenous peoples spoke dozens of different languages, and many are still spoken today. Almost all fall into groups of related languages traceable from a common ancestral tongue. The largest such group is the Algonquian; Cree, an Algonquian language, is spoken by 94,000 people and is today’s most significant indigenous language in Canada. Other large groups are Dene (also called Athapaskan), Iroquoian, Siouan, Salishan, Wakashan, Tsimshian, and Eskimo-Aleut. There are also three indigenous languages of British Columbia—Kootenay, Haida, and Tlingit—that are not clearly related to any other known tongue.
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